Tour de Fleece 2017

And they’re off!

Well the spinners started yesterday but I was up in sunny Anglesey for a couple of days and so missed the first day of spinning as I was driving home again.

As usual we have a small but friendly team of cheerful spinners on Team BarberBlackSheep – the lovely members of the group have already kicked off in style and produced some beautiful singles yesterday from various BBS fibres as well as those from other dyers and fibre suppliers. It’s so nice to spin along in company and it’s always good to see pictures of what we’re all doing! If you think you’d like to join us this year, it’s not too late – hop over the Revelry group and pitch in! You can spin anything you want (but please note only BBS fibre is eligible for the randomly-drawn prize I award at the end of the tour).

For myself I’ve been caught up in lots of non-spinning stuff recently so I’ve only just got myself sorted out with my first TdF spinning fibre today. We discussed the popular “Combo-Spin” technique a few weeks back which involves spinning sections of fibre in a random order to make a variegated yarn which could have a certain amount of planning in its design or be completely down to chance and how your fibres turn out. It’s a good way of putting together those one-off skeins that somehow wheedle their way into our lives but stubbornly resist getting involved in a project because of being just 100g or 4 oz or so.

I decided to put a BBS “spin” (see what I did there?!) on it by spinning random chunks of my Haunui/Merino batt sets together to combine.

When I designed the forerunner of these multi-colour-packs aeons ago it seems – the SweaterBox batts and then the Three Of A Kind batts – I put in the listing that they could be spun in several ways including being spun in random sections. I’d always intended it as an option for you … but haven’t got around to doing it as a project myself.

I don’t actually need a sweater quantity just now (a quick look in both fibre and yarn stash reveals enough sweater-possibilities to last me till Doomsday!) but I do want to try it so I’ve scaled it down for an amount that would work for a shawl or perhaps a hat/mitten set or something.

I found an image I liked that served as a starting point (I can’t copy it here without infringing copyright unfortunately but the general principle of using images to inspire colour combinations is very useful for a starting point that you can bend to your own tastes.

I’ve made up half-size batts picking out colours from both the Josie set and the Passiflora set pictures above. Which gives me a colour combination like this.

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My intention is to spin randomly for one ply and then to use another ply of undyed Black Haunui to create a random barber-pole yarn. I’m not the world’s biggest fan of barber-pole yarns as they are but they do usually knit up beautifully in plain knitting. I have the idea of how this works in my head – the proof will be in the making though! I’m literally nailing my colours to the mast by telling you before I start!

The possibilities for scaling this up into sweater quantities are pretty much limitless, either by combing more batt sets or by using multiples of the same colour way. I’d love to see if other people use this idea for Haunui / Merino batts too – if you do, please post pictures in my Revelry group so we can all see!

Spinning crepe yarn from pencil roving

I’ve posted very little spinning content on my blog in the past few months (bad BlackSheep!) but I’ve been doing odds and ends of spinning, test samples for various projects and people. I started spinning this BFL pencil roving I dyed back in the summer and it’s been sitting on my wheel taking up bobbin space whilst I do the oddments and the longer I leave things, the less I feel like finishing them. Which is a shame really because BFL is one of my favourite wools to work with and these are some of my favourite colours.

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I’ve got more sample spinning to do soon though and potentially quite a big spinning project to fit in with someone else’s schedule which needs me to clear all my bobbins. So although I have a brand new wool I dyed yesterday that’s begging me to start on it, I’m being good and finishing the BFL crepe first!

One of the reasons I had been delayed is that I’d started spinning this with the general idea of blogging about it because this is outside my “default spinning” on two counts and I thought it might be interesting to look at it and why I chose to do this.  I’ve had hand dyed BFL pencil roving in the shop this summer and it’s fun to knit with as chunky yarn, I’ve woven it for a friend as a show sample for her lovely hand dyed pencil rovings but I’d not actually got around to spinning it myself. Having spun up the first two bobbins a while ago, I needed the time to photograph the final bobbin and samples for the blog and just couldn’t find the time. So I apologise for the poor lighting of the following photos, but it’s a very murky overcast October day here and I also really needed both hands to spin with which makes it tricky to take photos – you really need a helpful assistant. Or three hands!! 

Pencil roving is one of the stages of creating commercially spun yarn so, unlike the usual much fatter tops and rovings we spin from, it has a slight twist in it. This twist is in the clockwise direction, also known as “Z” twist. For anyone unfamiliar with the term Z (and S) twist in relation to spinning, it’s called this because if you look at it the angle of the twist is like the middle section of the letter Z – slanting to the right. Imagine a Z overlaid on the roving below.

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Twist in the opposite or anticlockwise direction is known as “S” twist because the angle is like the middle section of the letter S.

Spinners commonly default to spinning their singles in the Z / clockwise direction before plying two or more singles together in the anti-clockwise direction to balance and stabilise the yarn. An S-plied yarn works well for English style knitting where the yarn is carried in the right hand and “thrown” (as opposed to Continental style knitting where the yarn is held in the left hand and “picked”) because as you carry your yarn, a tiny amount of twist is added. For English knitting the twist can slightly unravel Z-plied yarns – some people feel this isn’t a problem but my first attempt at spinning a cable yarn was Z-plied and it was very irritating to knit with as the chunky handspun wasn’t that tightly plied and did indeed unravel as I knit – lesson learned!

To make pencil roving with its inbuilt Z twist easier to spin, it helps to unravel that twist slightly as you draft and makes it easier to handle. Spinning the singles in the Z direction as normal adds twist and means you can end up fighting what’s already in the roving and locking the fibres together – a frustrating spinning experience. So spinning it in the S direction helps to unlock the latent twist and is generally much smoother to draft.

However that does mean you end up with a finished yarn that will be Z-plied … my English-style knitting nemesis from before! So I thought it would be fun to use this for a crepe yarn which is a 3-ply yarn that has 3 stages to it and would allow me to spin 2 of the singles in the S direction and still end up with S-plied yarn at the end for me to knit with. Cunning?!

For detailed information on spinning crepe yarns – or any yarns in fact – I strongly recommend you borrow or preferably buy a copy of the Spinner’s Book of Yarn Design by Sarah Anderson. Sarah is a wonderful teacher both in person and in writing and this is my go-to book when working with yarns other than my standard repertoire. This blog post is more about spinning crepe yarn from pencil roving than a basic crepe yarn tutorial. Really well worth having “…Yarn Design” in your spinning library.

You can spin crepe yarns in either direction but for the sake of the pencil roving subject matter I’m using the following formula:     2 singles spun in S (anticlockwise) direction plied together with twice the amount of plying twist in the Z (clockwise). A third single is spun in the Z (clockwise direction) and then you ply the Z single and the Z 2-ply yarn together in the S (anticlockwise direction) to make a balanced crepe yarn. Got that? Yup, go buy the book – it’s worth it!

So you need your fibre divided up roughly into three sections. I did this by weighing the skein as I wound it into three balls to spin from. As you spin, the twist you release is going to back up in the roving closer to the ball of wool. You can see it twist the roving behind where I’m pinching it off.

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You need to release that twist somehow so I find it helps to break off a section of roving (around 60cm is workable for me but you can go longer or shorter) . You won’t be able to pull tightly twisted roving apart so where you want to break it off, hold the fibre between your hands and untwist it so that the fibres lie parallel instead.

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And then pull them apart, they should drift quite easily…

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The twist will be sitting there but you can then shake it out and let it unravel ready for drafting.

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Another tip for drafting pencil roving is to roll it between your fibre (back) hand as you draft to release the twist as well – this definitely applies to spinning in the Z direction but it helps in the S direction too. (I hold fibre in my left hand but more spinners use their right hand for the fibre supply, so don’t swap over if you do the opposite to me – just carry on as you are!)

As you spin you can control the fibre supply between the heel of your palm and pinkie/ring fingers …

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…which leaves your thumb and forefinger free to control the  draft action as usual – at this point you can add a sneaky little roll of your thumb to the right to untwist it and then draft.

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When you have your S-spun singles ready to ply, remember that you will need twice the amount of plying twist to a normal plied yarn. Italics because this is important!! You don’t want a balanced yarn at this stage because you need latent twist in it to cancel out the twist when you ply it with your final (third) single. This is trickier than you’d think to maintain over the length of the spinning so it might help you to allow a fresh single to twist back on itself for a few inches to create a wee sample to have by you.

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You will need twice the amount of twist to this in your plying – and yes it will feel very odd over-twisting your yarn!! This sample will be handy to check whether you have sufficient twist or if you’ve slipped back into making a lovely balanced yarn out of habit!

The twisty pigtail yarn pinched between my finger and thumb is about right. The balanced (but wrong!) sample is next to it on my hand for comparison.

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So you will fight your instincts and ply a bobbin-full of overtwisted yarn in the Z direction.

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Aargh. Keep going. You can check twist by allowing a little of the yarn to ply back on itself to see how it balances out. If it’s under plied, add more twist. If you end up spinning a whole bobbin without enough twist then you can run it back through your wheel in the same direction to add a bit more – but it’s better to get it in there the first time if you can.

Now you’ll need to spin your third single in the Z direction. This will be harder from pencil roving because of the twist in it but using the tips above – short lengths and rolling it – you’ll be fine. And it’s only one single…

Finally you get to see the results of your labour. Time to play … I mean ply!

You’ll need your Z singles on one bobbin and your Z plied yarn on another. If you’re spinning all this in one session then the yarns might be a bit springy so tensioning your bobbins may help. On the other hand, if your singes/yarn are stale, they may be easier to ply but you won’t see the crepe snapping into place which can help with judging the amount of plying twist. It’s up to you and how much time you have to spin in one session; both ways have bonuses and drawbacks.

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This is quite a poor photo of the sample yarn I’m afraid but it does show the characteristic bobbly effect of the finished crepe technique. Crepe yarns are great fun to spin and you can do different texture and colour variations with them to add to the fun!

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The finished yarn:

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You can use the above tips for spinning ordinary 2-ply yarns too or maybe you can think up some other ways of using pencil roving? Plying it with a glittery commercial thread or using it as a base for other art yarn techniques would be really good fun too!

I’ve just a few skeins of pencil roving left in the shop at BarberBlackSheep – which is why I spun this sample in the first place! – but it’s also occasionally available from other UK dyers too should I have sold out when you want to try some crepe yarn fun yourself!

Handcarding a gradient from batts

This is another post taking a closer look at ways you can use BarberBlackSheep Haunui/Merino batts. Previously I showed how you can use them for wet felting and embellishing using the Turning Leaf colour way to make some autumnal leaf decorations.

Today I’m looking at how you can use the 5 batts in the colourway and blend them with hand carders to smooth the transitions for a seamless gradient yarn. You can do this on a drum-carder too and I’ll do another post on that in due course but I’d like to start with hand cards.

This is partly because it’s a really adjustable way of smooth colour transition but mostly because the majority of spinners are more likely to have hand cards than drum carders. Not everyone can justify the extra expense of a drum carder or has the space for one but most of us can stretch to a pair of hand cards and they range in price from very reasonably priced basic ones to super soft and flexible deluxe ones so there’s something for everyone.

I’m not going to repeat the actual hand carding technique. If you’re new to hand carding or need to “brush up” (!) on the process you can take a look at this blog post I did on hand carding rolags a while ago.

I apologise for the photos not being particularly beautiful – today it has rained nonstop here in Wales and was so dark and overcast that I had to use studio lights and white sheet as a background. It’s less than ideal but hopefully you’ll see the process clearly.

I’m using my Still Waters colour way – a wool blend of 35% Haunui New Zealand Halfbred/65% Merino.

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I’m using them in the colour sequence I pack them in but you can arrange the colours in the order that pleases you best so take your time moving them around before you start to decide on your sequence.

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I’m creating one gradient for a singles yarn that I will then Navajo Ply for even colour changes. If you wish spin yours the same way or make a singles yarn or a single that you can ply with another single for a barber pole yarn, carry on like this.

If you want to spin a 2-ply yarn but with the same colour changes you’ll need to start by dividing each colour into two – it’s probably easiest to do this directly along the fold line in the middle and make a “mini batt”. Then you need to do the following process twice; first with one group of 5 mini batts and then with the second group of 5.

Starting with your first colour, unroll the batt and split off one third.

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Take the larger section and put it to one side – this is your beginning point and it’s ready to spin. I just wrap it back into a little nest to keep it together. Taking the second colour unroll the batt …

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… and split that into 3 equal sections. At this point I should say I’m just eyeballing the quantities – the more you do this the more accurate you get and it doesn’t need to be absolutely perfect. But if you’re worried about not getting the right amounts then you can use digital scales (you’ll need them to weigh down to 1 gram)

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Set aside the batts and strips you aren’t working on – it helps to have finished sections on one side of you and the ones still to blend on the other. If you can have a spare surface or a basket to place the finished nests in that helps to keep them in order ready for spinning too.

Take one section of your first colour and one of the second and divide each strip into 4 pieces.

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Now arrange them in three groups:

a) two pieces of Colour 1 and one piece of Colour 2

b) One piece each of both Colours 1 & 2

c) one piece of Colour 1 and two pieces and Colour 2 like thus …

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The amounts of fibre in each of the three groups will almost certainly be too much to card in one go. Remember the rule that less is always more with both hand carding and drum carding – you get better results if you don’t try and cram too much fibre on in one go. So working methodically and keeping the groups separate, split the group into half again or even further if that’s easier.

Here I’m working with Group A. I lay some of the first colour on the carder, then some of the second colour, then top it with the remaining piece of the first colour again.

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Blend the fibres by hand carding two or three passes as per your normal technique or following the method in the link at the beginning of this post. DSC_0030

We’re not making rolags with this technique however (although if you prefer to spin from rolags you can absolutely do that instead). Lift the fibre from the last carder as usual so it lies on top of the teeth.

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Then starting at one of the shorter sides roll the little wad of blended fibre so the fibres lie parallel to each other.

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… which gives you a small “sausage” like section of fibre that is almost like a chunk out of section of roving.

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We’re now going to attenuate and pull the fibres out just the same way as if you were pre-drafting fibres for spinning (which is in fact all you’re doing!) So you want to hold your two hands sufficient distance apart to allow the fibres to slip past each other as you gently pull them out into sliver. I can’t show this because I don’t have three hands – which of course on the whole is a good thing but less so when you’re trying to take photographs of making things by hand! You’ll just have to imagine my right hand drafting the fibres back in this photo.

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Now you have your little section of sliver you can roll it up into a little nest and put it next to the first colour. Continue with the remaining section of Group A and then do the same with Group B and Group C. You’ll have a gradient of nests reaching from one “mother” colour to the next like this.

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Pretty huh?

If you think at any point that there is too big a jump between shades it’s the simplest thing in the world to smooth out – you simply take the two nests and remove a piece of each and re-card them together to make yet another transition shade. I told you it was versatile!

Now you’re going to do the same thing with the next two shades. Colour 2 was split into three pieces. We just used the one piece up, the second piece you’re going to set aside as the “mother colour” which is spun as it is and now you’ll take the third piece ready to blend with the next section. Divide Colour 2 into four pieces ready and taking Colour 3, split it into three strips to repeat the same process.

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2 x four equal pieces in 3 groups. Split as necessary and blend. Roll sideways and draft into sliver. More pretty gradient nests …

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Keep doing this with the 4th and 5th colours. Remember that the 5th colour you’ll split it into a 1/3 and 2/3 like you did with the first colour. You can in fact make a never-ending gradient by carding a third of Colours 1 & 5 together to join the gradient back in a loop or alternatively you can tack another gradient set on in the same way – lots of my Haunui/Merino batts colour ways compliment each other so you can make an amazingly long gradient yarn this way if you choose!

You don’t need me to keep waffling; you know where you’re going now. Here are the rest of the pictures though.

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Wooo… lovely long gradient nests waiting to be spun up.

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It’s super awesome fun. I hope you’ve enjoyed this gradient tutorial and that it’s inspired you to have a play with making your own gradients. You can do this with so many fibres, not just my batts. Keep experimenting.

The more blends you do between shades, the better and smoother your gradient colour changes will be. The closer the colours are the smoother they’ll be too so if you’re working with colours that are contrasting in either hue or value (in terms of light and dark) you might want to do extra blends on the transitions. Remember that at this “nest” stage it’s still really easy to adjust this though by carding two transitions together.

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Don’t forget to post pictures of your BarberBlackSheep Haunui/Merino yarns in my Ravelry group if you’d like to show them.

Happy spinning!